We And I: Hillary, Trump, And Gender Differences In Communication

Donald Trump has been critiqued and ridiculed for his claim that “he alone” can fix the problems of America. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump said that “no one knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” Back in March, he tweeted that he alone could solve the problem of radical Islam: “Another radical Islamic attack, this time in Pakistan, targeting Christian women & children. At least 67 dead, 400 injured. I alone can solve (emphasis mine).”

The Clinton campaign has assailed Trump for his comments, arguing that Trump’s words are indicative of a major contrast between the two candidates: while Trump continues a campaign based on divisiveness, Hillary wants to bring Americans together, and lead the country by making compromises in the spirit of getting things done and pushing through gridlock.

In my book, 52 Reasons to Vote For Hillary, I detail Hillary’s long history of making compromises and negotiating—often with people on the opposite side of aisle—to move policy forward. One thing that’s true about Hillary is that she has never claimed to have single-handedly done anything. Indeed, she wrote a book whose title—It Takes a Village—says it all: none of us can do anything of real substance alone, and pretending that we can is not only silly, it’s a bad strategy.

In watching Hillary’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, I was struck by how often she used the word “we” in talking about her plans for America. In fact, a major theme of her speech was the need to unite as Americans and address some of the nation’s deepest problems together. As Hillary said, “Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That is the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America. We wrote it together – now let’s go out and make it happen together.”

Curious, I compared the two candidates’ acceptance speeches at their respective Conventions, and found that Hillary was twice as likely to use the word “we” in her speech, with 126 total mentions. Trump said we only 61 times.

Not only are the very words the candidates used reflective of differences in strategies and platforms (Hillary’s theme of bringing America together is clearly different from Trump’s claim that he will make America great again), they also signify a major difference in the way women and men communicate. Recent studies have found that women are much more likely to listen and prioritize establishing rapport and connection in conversation. Men, in contrast, emphasize the “status dimension,” or who “won” the conversation—if you make a smart point and avoid being perceived as wrong, you win the conversation. I’m not the first to point out that part of Hillary Clinton’s political success has lied in her ability to build relationships with trusted allies—something she does well, and something our country needs more of.

Other studies of the workplace show that men are much more likely than women to take credit for work, even work they haven’t actually done. Women tend to downplay their own contributions and give more credit to the people they work with on teams—especially when their teammates are men. I see this  play out in my own office all the time—I can’t tell you how often I hear men I work with use the word “I” in meetings, even when they’re talking about work other people contributed to. In staff meetings, I always say “we” when I’m talking about a project I’m working on with others, even if I’m the project lead: “We are working on the presentation,” “We believe we should move in this direction,” etc. In contrast, many of the men I’ve worked with will talk in the first-person about projects: “I am working on the presentation,” “I believe we should move in this direction,” and this is true even when they are not the project leads.

I give credit to the people I work with not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because I value collaboration and truly believe it produces better work. I don’t want to work on projects by myself, not because I’m lazy, but because I value the perspectives of my teammates and believe work products benefit when we bring others to the table. Hillary shares this philosophy, and her record has shown that not only does she talk about working together, she’s actually done it.  We cannot say the same of Donald Trump, and he probably wouldn’t say the same of himself either. He seems to take pride in believing that he can and should solve the problems of America by himself.

Trump’s ridiculously narcissistic comments might make us laugh, but they’re more serious than that. We can’t chalk up his comments to general Trump buffoonery, because they are actually deeply reflective of a much broader way of communicating and interacting with people in this world that matters- Trump wants America to “win,” much like men want to win conversations, and elevate their status. Hillary wants to bring people together, collaborate, and make America whole. The work we need to do in America is not about winning—it’s about uniting together to solve problems, bringing more voices to the table, and moving forward together.

 Dr. Brittany L. Stalsburg is the author  of 52 Reasons To Vote For Hillary.